Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Series: Seven Realms #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for himself, his mother, and his sister Mari. Ironically, the only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell. For as long as Han can remember, he’s worn thick silver cuffs engraved with runes. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.
While out hunting one day, Han and his Clan friend, Fire Dancer catch three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. After a confrontation, Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to ensure the boy won't use it against them. Han soon learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, Princess Heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of relative freedom with her father’s family at Demonai camp – riding, hunting, and working the famous Clan markets. Although Raisa will become eligible for marriage after her sixteenth name-day, she isn't looking forward to trading in her common sense and new skills for etiquette tutors and stuffy parties.
Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems like her mother has other plans for her--plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for. With the help of her friend, the cadet Amon Byrne, she navigates the treacherous Gray Wolf Court, hoping she can unravel the conspiracy coalescing around her before it’s too late.
Han and Raisa are both amazing protags. They are complex and troubled and strong and defiant and completely awesome. Han and Raisa are from very different backgrounds, but they are both trying to do what they feel is right despite all of the obstacles in the way. I really connected with each of them. I love Han's attitude and the fact that Raisa isn't some pretty, pretty princess that is content to be a figurehead. Both of them struggle with three facets of their identities. I love the fact that they each have these three identities and that each one goes by a different name/alias. In addition to their normal identities, they each have a clan name in addition to an alias - Han as the gang leader "Cuffs", and Raisa disguised as a servant girl named Rebecca. It illustrates really well the identity struggles that teenagers go through, especially around the age in which they must transition into adulthood. In the novel, clan children are said to have fluid names which change as their personalities grow and evolve, and often receive a name change on their 16th birthday, one which corresponds with his/her chosen path in life - a further example of identity and the transition from child to adult. I love what this book does with names, identity, and the coming of age.
The secondary characters are also amazingly done as well (and there are many of them, though not so many that it becomes confusing). I can't think of a single one who falls flat. (Raisa's best friend, Amon, is my favorite, though.) As many of you have probably noticed, I absolutely love it when the secondary characters are fleshed out just as well as the main characters are. I am always impressed when an author can effectively do that, because the narrative spends significantly less time on these characters and the space in which to make them feel real is so small by comparison. I felt connections to those close to Han and Raisa, and contempt for their enemies. I also felt the connections between the characters themselves. The world building in this novel is extremely well done, from the descriptions of the cities and surrounding areas to the politics at play. The characters involved in this world are very much alive on the pages, which gives the setting even more depth and relevance. The reader can see, feel, and witness the story as though he/she is a part of it.
I could go on for pages about all of the reasons why I loved this book. The characterization is superb. The plot is complex, and it is filled with suspense, action, survival, conspiracy, thievery, wizardry, and dancing. I obviously recommend it! If you love epic/high fantasies, and even if you're unsure about them, you should pick up The Demon King. I can't wait to get started on its sequel, The Exiled Queen. If you have read this book or plan to, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!